Conspicuous Consumption

Author:  The piece was written by Thorstein Veblen, an American economist and sociologist.  He is well known for his thinking in the field, as he applied Darwinian theory to economic analysis.

Context:  Written in 1902, Veblen was writing in the midst of the second Industrial Revolution.  As the middle class began to surge, many previously lower class individuals were becoming more prosperous.  Veblen observes this phenomenon, thus he writes Conspicuous Consumption.

Language: Veblen’s tone is analytic, observant, and unromantic.  His diction is advanced.

Audience: Veblen is writing for the a intellectual audience, as indicated by his advanced word choice.

Intent:  Veblen is pointing out the vast eruption of the middle class and its transformation into a consumer society, a society that spends money on luxury goods, in order to flaunt their wealth to others.  He sees this as relatively negative and criticizes them.

Message: Veblen makes an attempt to show that the world is becoming too materialistic, as many purchase items to simply show wealth; items that are otherwise useless.  He continues, saying that the rift between the rich and poor is becoming more vast, and the public displays of money only adds to this.

3 thoughts on “Conspicuous Consumption

  1. I like that you highlight in your message section that the items purchased to demonstrate wealth are items that are generally useless. At the end of Veblen’s work, he discussed how articles may be both useful and wasteful. Veblen did not reject that certain items are constructed to serve a useful, productive purpose, however, he claimed that in general, wasteful products tend to predominate over productive articles.

  2. I think the last sentence of the context section is very important. It is easy to just skim over the context part because it is usually just the year but it doesn’t always give a ton of information. In this case the context makes the article. Veblen is not writing this at a random time in history, he does put across that what is happening to the middle class is a “phenomenon” as you said.

  3. I find it particularly compelling that Veblen is able to identify this materialism present in America so early on. I wonder how he would critique the contemporary consumerist culture in America, as our materialism has far surpassed that of the early 20th century.

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